2009 Mitsubishi Lancer RalliartS

The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart isn't an Evo X. It's better. That's what I keep telling myself as I drive the back roads of the Detroit exurbs in Mitsubishi's latest boosted compact. Slotting between the regular FWD Lancer 2.4 GTS and the balls-out rally car Evo X, the Ralliart seeks to put Mitsubishi on the shopping list of folks who might consider, say, a WRX but not a full-bore STi.


The Ralliart is a hybrid of a different sort. It takes bits and pieces from other Lancer models: The engine is a 2.0 MIVEC straight out of the Evo X but detuned via intake and ECU changes. The exhaust is Evo X. The chassis is Lancer GTS. The hood is Evo X. The AWD system is Evo IX. You get the idea — it's parts-bin engineering, but the good kind. And it trades many of the Evo's all-out race compromises for a larger dose of convenience and comfort.

That's what makes the car interesting to me, more so than some higher-strung alternatives. Why? The Evo is a rocket ship, but I've got a wife and a kid, and I live on a writer's salary. The Ralliart is a Lancer someone like me can justify. And, at a price expected to come in under $27k, one I can afford. Question is, can I live with it?

Not if I want to shift for myself. The Ralliart is saddled — or blessed — depending on how you look at it — with a dual-clutch manumatic as its only gearbox. Mitsubishi calls its system Twin-Clutch SST, and it returns quick, positive shifts. But it's not a 6-speed stick. I'm writing it off in my mind when I remember that sitting in traffic on I-75, this tranny will give me the best of both worlds. A compromise for my station in life. I'll let it slide.

Aside from the paddle shifters, the interior is unremarkable and adequate for anyone used to compact cars. The materials have decent texture, but they're mostly hard plastics with a dull sheen. And, quite unlike some of the compacts we've experienced recently, the doors close with a hollow metallic sound that reminds me of my father's '82 Civic. Yeah, I'm surrounded by airbags, but a little extra metal wouldn't hurt my feelings either.

But boost forgives many sins. The 235hp MIVEC 2.0 is all base Lancer below about 2,800 RPM, after which torque shows up; it's not intrusive, nor is it the dreaded "on/off" turbo switch, but the car subtly changes character. Mitsu lit says that 253 ft-lb is available from 2,500-4,750 RPM — and that's pretty much the only place it's available. Fortunately, the Twin-Clutch SST will happily let you play in that sweet spot all day long. The fat steering wheel, another item borrowed from the Evo X, along with point-and-shoot handling courtesy of AWD and good electronics, makes the car an effortlessly fun toy when you want it to be.

But it doesn't have to be. It's not an Evo, but I can't use a race car. I drive in Detroit, where just about every road is a straight line pockmarked by what looks like an allied bombing campaign. I drive in traffic. I haul stuff home from Costco. With niceties like 60/40 split-fold seats and a trunk uncluttered by the battery, I can accomplish those tasks in the Ralliart.

Mitsubishi's Lancer Ralliart is fun as hell but it doesn't punish you for being a normal Joe. It's the Evo substitute for working stiffs like me who have to drive in the real world. After all, I don't mind compromising, but I don't like to suffer.